Houston Rallies Late to Beat Bucs

Steven Jackson gave up three runs in 1.1 innings of work over the 7th and 8th innings as the Pirates dropped two of three to Houston. Miguel Tejada delivered a two out RBI infield single in the 7th to break a 3-3 tie. On that play former Pirate Matt Kata scored from second, not stopping on the play since there were two gone. In the 8th, Jackson put two on with one away and was relieved by Jesse Chavez. He allowed run scoring hits to Humberto Quintero and former Pirate Jason Michaels to put Houston up 6-3.

The Pirates scored once and brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Freddy Sanchez in the 9th, but couldn’t come through LaTroy Hawkins.

Ian Snell gave up three runs in six innings. He walked one and whiffed three. Astros starter Felipe Paulino left in the second with a groin issue. He gave way to Russ Ortiz, who tossed 4-1/3 innings of shutout ball. Ortiz was in line for the win but the Pirates scored twice in the visitor’s half of the 7th off of Tim Brydak, setting up Jackson’s ineffective effort.

The Good

Andrew McCutchen logged his first three hit game.

The Pirates defense recorded three double plays, including a strike ’em out/throw ’em out.

Snell was decent. That’s a positive sign.

The Bad

Tough when the bullpen falters.

Ramon Vazquez bobbled Tejada’s grounder in the 7th, allowing

The Rest

This was the 11th career game in which Humberto Quintero had two or more RBI. Three of those are against Pittsburgh. This was his second career three hit game.

Michael Bourn has two hits in five of his last six games.

Jeff Fulchino picked up his first ML win.

Sanchez is in the midst of a 2-18 (and 4-27) streak.

 

 

 

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Hampton Sends Bucs Back to Earth

The one game euphoria I had after Andrew McCutchen’s successful ML debut has been driven from my mind.

Mike Hampton and Jeff Fulchino combined to limit the Pirates to six singles and one run. Hampton went seven, allowing five hits, the lone run and no walks. He whiffed five.

The Astros went to work against Jeff Karstens and then Evan Meek in the sixth inning to bust open a two run game. Houston scored seven times in that six frame courtesy of four hits and four walks from the Pirate hurlers. Carlos Lee’s grand slam was the highlight (lowlight) of the inning.

The Good

Delwyn Young had two hits.

Sean Burnett and Jesse Chavez each tossed an inning of scoreless relief.

The Bad

This was probably Karstens’ worst outing of the year. He went 5-2/3 and allowed six of the nine Houston tallies.

The Rest

You have to go back to 4-21-07 to find a game in which Karstens allowed six or more earned runs.

Delwyn Young has multiple hits in five of the 11 games he has started. He is also 6-15 as a pinch hitter.

Former Pirate Matt Kata hit into a double play as a pinch hitter for Houston. It was just his third MLB AB since 2007.

That was the 14th career Salami from Lee. He is tied for sixth among active players in career grand slams.

Pirates again lacked patience in 2008

In May, I took a look at the Pirates’ plate discipline in 2007 and 2008. In that small sample size, the team had slightly improved from the previous year. Now that the season is over, I figured it would be a good time to revisit this topic.
Here is an excerpt from my original post to get us started:

FanGraphs has some wonderful statistics that quantify a hitter’s plate discipline. Using O-Swing% (“the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone”), we can determine whether certain players are fishing outside the strike zone on a regular basis. In 2005-2007, the average O-Swing% was around 23%. Let’s see how the Pirates are doing this year compared with 2007. (Note: pitchers are not included.)
To start, let’s take a look at the 2007 Pirates. Jose Castillo (35.11%), Matt Kata (35.11%), Freddy Sanchez (33.43%), and Xavier Nady (30.19%) were all major free-swingers. Castillo and Kata were sent packing after the season, but Sanchez and Nady returned to the starting lineup for 2008. Jack Wilson (26.24%) was slightly above average, while Ryan Doumit (24.96%), Cesar Izturis (24.50%), Adam LaRoche (23.36%), Chris Duffy (23.05%), Jason Bay (22.12%) and Ronny Paulino (21.54%) were all about average. Nate McLouth (18.95%), Josh Phelps (18.95%), Jose Bautista (17.85%) and Rajai Davis (16.82%) were the most disciplined Pirates. Overall, the 2007 Pirates swung at 24.58% (EDIT: My numbers were slightly off at that time. The correct O-Swing% in 2007 was 24.61%.) of pitches outside the strike zone, just slightly higher than average.

McLouth, Sanchez, LaRoche, Doumit, Bay, Nady, Bautista and Wilson received the most at-bats for the Pirates in 2008. Sanchez and Nady continued their wild swinging, staying very close to their 2007 numbers. Sanchez chased 33.33% pitches, while Nady swung at 30.47% balls outside the strike zone before being traded. Doumit (30.60%) also became a very impatient hitter in 2008. Wilson (26.94%) was very consistent with 2007, while LaRoche (22.55%) and Bay (20.65%) both improved slightly. McLouth’s patience regressed this year with increased playing time (21.87%), and Bautista also fell off from last season (21.19%). However, both remained slightly above average. New additions to the team’s bench received a moderate amount of playing time. Doug Mientkiewicz (17.15%) was the most patient player on the team, while Chris Gomez (23.35%) and Jason Michaels (23.71%) were right around league average. Luis Rivas (25.42%) was a bit aggressive off the bench.
Several younger players began receiving playing time after the trades of Bay and Nady. Andy LaRoche (25.30%), Brandon Moss (26.93%) and Steve Pearce (24.77%) displayed a bit below average patience. Nyjer Morgan, the oldest of the group, chased 27.65% of pitches outside the zone. One of the main reasons I remain optimistic about the futures of LaRoche and Moss is their history of patience in the minor leagues. These numbers will have to improve soon as they adjust to Major League pitching. The fact that Pearce was right in the same neighborhood in O-Swing% as these two is somewhat encouraging, as he seemed to swing at everything at times this year. In reality, he was much better in 2008 than he was in 2007 (29.27%), although both were very small sample sizes. I’m not convinced that Pearce can be a quality Major League hitter, but I think he has shown enough to get the same opportunities as Moss and LaRoche in 2009.
Overall, the Pirates chased 25.11% of pitches outside the strike zone in 2008. That number increased slightly from the team’s 24.61% in 2007. Accordingly, the Pirates were 27th in baseball in on-base percentage, and 26th in walks. It seems that the Pirates’ strong early-season focus on patience was mostly forgotten as the season progressed. Another likely reason was the increased playing time for younger hitters after the deadline deals, although the loss of the free-swinging Nady probably offset that line of reasoning a bit. Hopefully, as players like Andy LaRoche, Moss and Pearce mature at the plate, these numbers will become more respectable.
One other note. The Pirates Z-Swing% (“The percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone”) dropped from 66.62% in 2007 to 63.16% in 2008. The 2005-2007 average was about 67%. I don’t think we can take as much from this statistic as we can from O-Swing%, as swinging at strikes is much more situational than swinging at balls. A batter should virtually never chase a pitch out of the strike zone, while there are many instances when swinging at a strike is the wrong decision. However, when examined along with the team’s O-Swing%, this may further indicate a lack of strike zone management.

Has the Pirates’ plate discipline improved?

Early in the season, many people praised Pirate hitters for utilizing a more patient approach at the plate. The most cited evidence of this improvement was the number of times a player took the first pitch he saw. John Russell and his staff were commended for coaxing this team of free swingers into taking some pitches. However, there is a danger in simply taking the first pitch every at-bat. Once opposing pitchers recognize this trend, hitters begin finding themselves behind in the count right off the bat. While being patient and forcing the pitcher to throw additional pitches is an important aspect of hitting, plate discipline is much more valuable. In other words, swinging at pitches in the strike zone and taking pitches that are not. Simple, right?
FanGraphs has some wonderful statistics that quantify a hitter’s plate discipline. Using O-Swing% (“the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone”), we can determine whether certain players are fishing outside the strike zone on a regular basis. In 2005-2007, the average O-Swing% was around 23%. Let’s see how the Pirates are doing this year compared with 2007. (Note: pitchers are not included.)
To start, let’s take a look at the 2007 Pirates. Jose Castillo (35.11%), Matt Kata (35.11%), Freddy Sanchez (33.43%), and Xavier Nady (30.19%) were all major free-swingers. Castillo and Kata were sent packing after the season, but Sanchez and Nady returned to the starting lineup for 2008. Jack Wilson (26.24%) was slightly above average, while Ryan Doumit (24.96%), Cesar Izturis (24.50%), Adam LaRoche (23.36%), Chris Duffy (23.05%), Jason Bay (22.12%) and Ronny Paulino (21.54%) were all about average. Nate McLouth (18.95%), Josh Phelps (18.95%), Jose Bautista (17.85%) and Rajai Davis (16.82%) were the most disciplined Pirates. Overall, the 2007 Pirates swung at 24.58% of pitches outside the strike zone, just slightly higher than average.
The Pirates made two significant changes to their lineup this season. Doumit began receiving most of the playing time behind the plate over Paulino, who was a slightly more disciplined hitter in 2007. And McLouth was named the everyday center fielder, giving the Pirates a much better batting eye in the lineup. Thus far, Doumit (18.44%) and Bay (17.11%) have been much better than last year. McLouth (17.37%) has continued his smart hitting. Nady (27.02%) is still a free-swinger, but has improved. The addition of Doug Mientkiewicz (14.06%) has also helped. But Sanchez (37.70%) has continued swinging at everything and an overmatched Brian Bixler (33.33%) has received a considerable number of plate appearances due to Wilson’s injury. In addition, Bautista (23.79%) has apparently lost his excellent batting eye. As a team, the Pirates have chased 23.76% of pitches outside the zone.
As you can see, the Pirates have improved their plate discipline, but only by a small margin. Because the improvement has been modest, it is no surprise that the team remains in the bottom half of the league in walks and on-base percentage. Without some improvement in these categories, do not expect the Pirates to continue scoring runs at the impressive rate that they have thus far.
P.S. Is anyone wondering why Freddy Sanchez has struggled so badly this year? Beginning in 2006, his yearly Zone% has been 55.26%, 53.96% and 49.92%. In those same years, his O-Swing% has been 30.45%, 33.43% and 37.70%. In other words, pitchers are throwing him far less strikes, and he is increasingly chasing pitches. That is a recipe for disaster. A disaster we may be witnessing right now.

Pirates’ 2007 in review – infield defense

This is the second installment in a series reviewing the performance of the Pirates’ defense in 2007. For this purpose, I will be using Fielding Runs Above Replacement (FRAR) and Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) by Baseball Prospectus (BP). Along with the statistical analysis, I will incorporate what I have seen while watching the team play this year. Since fielding statistics are not as precise as offensive measures, I welcome any disagreement you may have with any of my assessments. Feel free to explain an opposing point of view in the comments section. Here is the first segment on the Pirate outfielders. Today we will discuss the infield.
The Pirates infield in 2007 was Jack Wilson and those other guys. Wilson rebounded from a poor 2006 season, returning to his top defensive form of a few years ago. Outside of his play, the infield was mostly average.
Adam LaRoche was quietly solid at first base this season. He was not a regular on nightly highlight shows, due to his below average range. But he fielded everything hit to him, and made many a difficult play look simple. LaRoche was a steadying presence on the right side of the infield, producing an FRAR of 15 and an FRAA of 6.
Jose Bautista showed some promise at third, but inconsistencies kept his defense from elevating above the level of average. It is possible that his versatility has hurt his defensive development, as he has shifted all over the field since joining the Pirates. In 2007, he was finally given the opportunity to settle in at one place. He was fantastic at third early in the season, but came back to earth as the year continued. Overall, he finished with an FRAR of 9 and an FRAA of -2.
In the second half of the season, many described the defense of Freddy Sanchez as Gold Glove caliber. While it is true that he improved over the course of 2007, we cannot forget how poorly he played in the first half. Early on, Sanchez seemed to botch several makeable plays in each game. Most likely, his injured knee was hindering him, severely limiting his range. His defense did improve dramatically as the year wore on, and it is very likely that the second half Freddy is the real one. But we cannot just toss out all of the struggles he endured before summer began. In April and May, Sanchez’s defense was very detrimental to the team. He finished the season with an FRAR of 7 and an FRAA of -15.
Jose Castillo, as we could have expected, performed unpredictably during limited playing time all over the infield. Cesar Izturis was good after joining the team in July to back up Jack Wilson. Josh Phelps was about average while relieving LaRoche at first. Matt Kata, Don Kelly, Ryan Doumit, Brad Eldred and Steve Pearce each spent irrelevant amounts of time in the infield. Overall, this group produced an FRAR of 14 and an FRAA of 2.
Obviously, Jack Wilson was the component that kept the Pirate infield going. After a couple of years as one of the top defensive shortstops in the league, Wilson attempted to add some strength before the 2006 season. The defensive results were not positive, as Wilson’s range dropped dramatically due to his increased bulk. He slimmed back down for the 2007 season, and his excellent defense returned. Ironically, he was benched for several games in June after a particularly poor showing in the field at Yankee Stadium. But that seemed to light a fire under him, and he played very well the rest of the year. Wilson had an FRAR of 37 and an FRAA of 19 this season.
Overall, the Pirates infield had a total FRAR of 82 and an FRAA of 10, much of which came from Wilson’s excellent defensive numbers. There is the opportunity that this could become a very solid infield next season, mostly because of Sanchez. It seems evident now that Freddy’s early season struggles were enhanced by injuries, leaving him as a very poor second baseman. It is quite possible that he can be an above fielder next season, giving the Pirates a strong middle infield. With a steady LaRoche and developing Bautista manning the corners, the Pirates could gain a win or two with their infield defense in 2008.

Posted in 2007 Pittsburgh Pirates, Adam LaRoche, Brad Eldred, Cesar Izturis, Freddy Sanchez, Jack Wilson, Jose Bautista, Jose Castillo, Josh Phelps, Matt Kata, Steve Pearce. Comments Off on Pirates’ 2007 in review – infield defense

Game #162 vs. St. Louis

PNC Park | 1:35 | Bullington vs. Troy Percival | Box
It’s official: the Pirates ended another miserable year by being swept by the diabolical Tony LaRussa who, in his ever present quest to draw attention to himself, elected to start Troy Percival, a career reliever. More than that, LaRussa tied the ML record for pitchers used in one contest with 10. Nice job, Tony. Don’t worry, we’ll never forget you.
Percy tossed just one inning and gave way to Kip Wells, who picked up the win in relief. Skip Schumaker went five for five and drove in a pair for the winners.
Bryan Bullington took the loss, but he wasn’t awful. He gave up two earned runs in five innings. 56 of his 78 pitches were for strikes. he allowed five hits and walked one. Juan Perez and Franquelis Osoria each gave up two runs in the sixth as the game slipped irretrievably away from the Buccos.
Nyjer Morgan extended his hitting streak to 11 games. Matt Kata, who was the lesser of the two injured players in last night’s collision with Jack Wilson, was kept out of the starting line up with wooziness. Wilson was released after spending the night in the hospital.
That’s all she wrote for 2007. Will 2008 be any worse?
Recaps
AP recap at Yahoo! Sports
Pirates Official Site
Cardinals Official Site
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Game #160 vs. St. Louis

PNC Park | 7:05 | Duke vs. Todd Wellemeyer | Box
Oh no. It’s happening. The Cards won and assured the Pirates of the cellar.
The spirit of Steve Blass inhabited John Grabow in the 8th. The result was three walks, a hit batsman and four earned runs. The inning unfolded with the game tied at one as both Todd Wellemeyer and Zach Duke pitched well. But, Grabow walked David Eckstein and he swiped second base. Rick Ankiel delivered a successful sacrifice. Albert Pujols was given the IBB, but Ryan Ludwick was plunked to load the bases. Grabow then walked So Taguchi to force in the go ahead run. That was it for Grabow. One out later, Steve Pearce made a diving attempt at a ball off the bat of Jim Edmonds. Pearce was unable to come up with it and the floodgates officially opened. All three runs scored.
After giving up just one earned run in all of August (13-1/3 IP), Grabow has given up seven earned runs in September in just 7-1/3 innings of work.
Here are some words I never thought I’d write: Thank goodness for Matt Kata. He had two of the Pirates five hits and drove in the only run.
Jack Wilson went 1-3. If he goes 4-9 over the final two games, his BA will round up to .300. Anything better than that and he’s at .300 naturally. I’m assuming if he has a big day and is sitting on .300 after tommorrow that he’d sit out on Sunday.
As a Bucco fan, the big story from this game is the encouraging start from Duke. He went seven innings and gave up 8 hits but walked nobody and struck out four. That’s good. But, it is, of course, a tad late. I have a bad feeling that I’ll be saying this at the same point of next season, but let’s hope that Duke is going to turn a corner next year.
Recaps
AP recap at Yahoo! Sports
Pirates Official Site
Cardinals Official Site
Read the rest of this entry »